Hosea Ballou is one of the theological giants of my religious tradition, Unitarian Universalism. Back in 1805, Ballou wrote A Treatise on Atonement, still the major exposition of North American Universalism (you can read it online here). Unfortunately, Ballou was not what you’d call a great writer. When trying to describe his writing style, the adjective “clunky” comes immediately to mind.
Because he was a mediocre writer, hardly anyone reads his Treatise any more, and hardly anyone bothers to sing any of the hundreds of hymns he wrote. This is unfortunate, because buried in Ballou’s clunky prose is a vision of a universe run by Love, where someday the power of Love is going to make everything turn out well.
I recently discovered that one of Ballou’s hymns is still in print — not in the current Unitarian Universalist hymnal, but in The Sacred Harp, a songbook widely used by shape-note singers. It’s number 411 in The Sacred Harp, and it goes like this:
1. Come, let us raise our voices high,
And from a sacred song,
To him who rules the earth and sky,
And does our days prolong.
Who through the night gave us to rest,
This morning cheered our eyes;
And with the thousands of the blest,
In health made us to rise.
2. Early to God we’ll send our prayer,
Make hast to pray and praise,
That he may make our good his care,
And guide us all our days.
And when the night of death comes on,
And we shall end our days,
May his rich grace the theme prolong,
Of his eternal praise.
Hosea Ballou, 1808 (C.M.D.)
No, I’m not proposing that we include this hymn in the next edition of the Unitarian Universalist hymnal. In The Sacred Harp book, Ballou’s hymn is set to a fuguing tune, fairly complex music that is far beyond the singing ability of the average American congregation (though it might be fun for a church choir), and the hymn itself is not quite good enough for me to want to go to the trouble of finding another, easier, tune for it. But it’s nice to know that people still do sing this old Universalist hymn, even though most of those who sing it probably have no idea who Hosea Ballou was, or what Universalism might be.